Looping threads LO28292

From: Fred Nickols (nickols@att.net)
Date: 04/23/02

In response to my posting about "looping threads" (LO28278), a list member
contacted me back channel and posed the following questions:

>Do you have any cites or references on these thoughts? Are they your
>original thinking?

Yes, I have some citations and references. Some of the thoughts or ideas
originate with me, others reflect my grasp of ideas expressed by others.

The notion of systems as "loops" is an idea I owe mainly to authors Daniel
Katz and Robert Kahn. In their book (The Social Psychology of
Organizations, published in 1966 by John Wiley and Sons), they wrote of
the "genius" of Floyd Henry Allport and pointed in particular to his
conception of organizational structure as a "cycle of events." See in
particular, Chapter 2: Organizations and the Systems Concept for an
elaboration on this view.

The notion of a process as a segment (and often an arbitrarily defined
segment) of a larger "stream" of activity is one I derived from my own
look at the cycles of events and my many years of work at improving the
performance of people, organizations and processes. I owe too much to too
many to name them all here. I tried to express my grasp of things in this
arena in an article titled "The Difficult Process of Identifying
Processes." It was published in 1998 in John Wiley & Son's Knowledge and
Process Management (Vol. 5, No. 1). A copy of this paper can be found on
my articles web site. If you want to read it on-line, the URL is
http://home.att.net/~nickols/difficult.htm. If you want to print and read
it later, I recommend the .pdf version. The URL for the .pdf version is

The idea that a system is dependent on (and thus acts to control) its
inputs, not just (or even mainly) its outputs, runs through the literature
on organizations as systems but show up in relation to people in the
writings of just one person: William T. Powers, an ardent and eloquent
advocate of control theory as applied to people or what he calls "living
control systems." The books and writers that have most affected my
thinking in this regard are:

Behavior: The Control of Perception, by William T. Powers. Published in
1975 by Aldine de Gruyter. This is Powers' most meticulous expression of
Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) and it ain't easy readin' but it is well
worth the effort. A search on amazon.com will turn up other books by
Powers, one of which is much easier reading. It is titled Making Sense of
Behavior: The Meaning of Control. You will find a review of the latter
book on my web site.

My take on what Powers has to say and how it applies to the task of
improving performance is reflected in an article on my web site titled "A
Better Model for Thinking about Human Performance." Its URL is

As for organizations and their dependency on inputs, part of that idea is
just plain common sense. That said, I was influenced in particular by
Stanley Seashore and Ephraim Yuchtman's chapter titled "The Elements of
Organizational Performance" which appears in a book edited by Bernard
Indik and Kenneth Berrien titled People, Groups and Organizations,
published in 1968 by Teachers College, Columbia University. (To Kenneth
Berrien, I also owe the notion that an organization controls the minimum
level of productivity and people control the maximum level. Sadly,
Berrien died prematurely on an operating table, the consequence of a
malfunction in an anaesthesia "system".) See in particular page 186 of
People, Groups and Organizations, where Seashore and Yuchtman write the

         "We define the effectiveness of an organization as its ability to
exploit its environments in the acquisition of scarce and valued resources
to sustain its own functioning."

I once tried to express all this in verse via a poem about systems,
published simultaneously in 1976 in the old NSPI Journal and in the OD
Practitioner. It, too, is on my web site. URLs follow:


There are no doubt other books that and writers who have influenced my
thinking in these areas but I'm darned if I can recall them at the moment.

I hope this "answers the mail" and that all concerned find it useful.


Fred Nickols
"Assistance at A Distance"


Fred Nickols <nickols@att.net>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <Richard@Karash.com> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <http://www.learning-org.com>

"Learning-org" and the format of our message identifiers (LO1234, etc.) are trademarks of Richard Karash.